Wednesday, May 31, 2023

May 2023's Reading Summary

Here it is the end of May.  Must be time for another reading summary.  As you can see from the pictures, I read lots of ebooks (and a couple of audio books) this month.  I try to keep it as roughly 50/50 between physical and ebook, but this month was tipped in favor of the ebooks.  June is going to be very similar.

Anyway, I've updated the index this month (thank you long Memorial Day weekend).

All ratings are on a scale of 1 (bad) to 5 (great).


Murder on the Home Front by Jessica Ellicott (WPC Billie Harkness #2) – 5

Billie Harkness has been on the job as one of only two female constables in the Hull police force for a few weeks now.  In that time, neither her co-workers nor the public have come to accept her any more then when she first started.  One of her true allies has been Peter Upton, a fellow constable who has been training her.  When the two of them find a dead body in an air raid shelter, Billie discovers some details that don’t make any sense.  Can they use those to figure out what happened to the victim?

It was great to be back in summer 1940 with Billie and Peter.  While most of the book is written from Billie’s third person point of view, we get some scenes from Peter’s, and they help flesh out the characters and plot wonderfully.  I was hooked the entire way through the story, although I did wonder where it was going a bit at first.  Once the body turned up, things were full speed ahead until we reached the end.  There is a strong sub-plot that is unfortunately too real and should not have been acceptable then or now.  I appreciated how it was handled.  The overall mystery is something that could only be told in England during World War II, and it helped bring details of that time in history to life for me.  If you enjoy historical mysteries, you need to pick it up.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


#TagMe for Murder by Sarah E. Burr (Trending Topics Mysteries #2) – 5

Coco Cline has a new neighbor, unfortunately.  Larry Dunmer is in town to conduct an audit, and he has his wife has proved to be horrible neighbors, complaining about anything and everything.  Still, Coco knows he will only be in town a few months.  So she is surprised when he is killed on the beach one morning.  Worse yet, her friend is accused of the crime.  Can Coco wade through the suspects to figure out what is really going on?

This book does include some minor spoilers for the first book (nothing like who the killer is), so keep that in mind.  However, I love how part of the character development in this book is watching Coco deal with the aftermath of that first case.  The set up for this mystery was familiar, but the book didn’t spend a lot of time dwelling on that, instead moving into a strong mystery that kept me guessing until the end.  This was helped by strong suspects.  I also love how Coco uses in person interactions and the internet to solve the case.  A sub-plot with Coco’s boyfriend also kept me turning pages.  If you are looking for a great mystery, you’ll want this book to trend to the top of your to be read pile.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


The Black Box by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch #16) – 5

When the LA riots happened back in 1992, Harry Bosch was a homicide detective who was called in to work crime scenes as quickly as possible since there were so many happening during that time.  One of those was of a reporter from a paper in Europe.  Nothing ever came of the case until twenty years later.  Bosch is now working in the cold case squad, but a ballistics hit was just made that links the gun that killed the reporter to gang related murders that have happened in the years since.  Can Bosch use this fresh new lead to finally solve the case?

Once again, part of the fun of the series is watching Bosch work his way to the conclusion.  I never would have guessed it, but it makes perfect sense when we get there.  Along the way, I enjoy spending time with Bosch and seeing how his life has evolved.  I especially enjoyed watching his relationship with his daughter in this book.  I did find the office politics Bosch faces border on clichĂ©d, although I did see the higher ups point in one aspect here.  I also found something that happened near the climax a little too convenient.  But both of these are minor points in an otherwise strong book that will please series fans.


Silence is Golden by Penny Warner (Connor Westphal Mysteries #6) – 4

Gold fever has hit Flat Skunk, California, after local eccentric prospector Sluice Jackson finds a nugget.  Reporter Connor Westphal isn’t quite so quick to jump on the gold bandwagon, but while she is still trying to figure out what is going on, an old skeleton turns up.  Meanwhile, Connor’s college boyfriend is in town with his ex-wife and their daughter.  Then a modern body turns up.  Can Connor figure out what is going on?

Obviously, there is a lot here, and that kept me entertained and engaged the entire way through.  I did feel like the ending was rushed, including a sub-plot getting pretty much dropped.  If you are new to the series, you should know that Connor is deaf, and I continue to love how that is portrayed in the stories.  This book is now twenty years old, so some things are dated, but as long as you know that going in, you’ll be fine.  Likewise, there is a little more swearing than you might expect, but not as much as earlier books in the series.  The characters, not just Connor, are all great, and I enjoyed spending time with them.  If you are looking for a unique main character, you’ll enjoy this book.

If I Had a Hammer by Teresa Trent (Swinging Sixties Mysteries #2) – 4

It’s November of 1963, and Dot Morgan’s excitement at witnessing JFK’s trip to Dallas turns to tragedy.  While her cousin deals with what they witnessed, Dot has to concentrate on her first job out of secretarial school.  She’s working at a local construction company, but she really only likes one of her bosses.  When he falls victim to a weird accident at work, Dot starts to investigate.  Can she figure out what happened?

You can’t write a series set in Texas in the 1960’s without dealing what happened that November.  I liked that this piece of history is given its own subplot, although I did feel like that storyline was rushed.  The main mystery is strong, with plenty to keep me turning pages, and the suspects were developed enough to help keep me confused.  I loved getting to spend time with Dot again, and the rest of the regulars are good as well.  As we get into the second half of the book, the action moves into December, and I enjoyed the Christmas parts of the book, too.  If you are looking for a good mystery set around an important piece of American history, this book is for you.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


A Novel Disguise by Samantha Larsen (Lady Librarian #1) – 5

When her half-brother dies unexpectedly, Tiffany Woodall quietly buries him and then assumes his identity.  There is nothing else for her to do in 1780’s England, especially if she wants to stay in the cottage the two of them lived in.  But she quickly finds that being two people is much more challenging than she expected, especially when she starts falling in love with the local book seller and has to dodge the marriage proposal of the local rector.  But it’s taking over her half-brother’s job of the local duke’s librarian that puts her in the most danger when one of the servants dies.  Might it tie to her brother’s death?

Obviously, there is a lot going on here, and it does mean the mystery takes a little time to become an important part of the story.  But I didn’t care.  I was quickly caught up in Tiffany’s life and couldn’t wait to find out what would happen to her next.  And make no mistake about it, the mystery here is strong.  I loved how things were all pulled together for the climax.  The characters are also wonderful, with plenty of them to love or love to hate.  I always felt like I was transported back in time as I was reading.  My only complaint was that we learned a little more than I felt necessary about the after effects of the poison, but that was a minor issue.  I’m already looking forward to the sequel.  If you are looking for a fun historical mystery, don’t miss this one.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


Her Dying Day by Mindy Carlson – 4

Documentary graduate student June Masterson has finally hit upon the perfect topic for her final project – the disappearance twenty years ago of Greer Larkin.  Greer had burst onto the mystery scene with six well received books before she disappeared, never to be seen again.  With the principles in Greer’s life agreeing to talk to June, she fantasizes about solving the case, making for the perfect end to her documentary.  Can she do that?  Will she even finish it in time?

I struggled with part of this book – a subplot in June’s life that I truly didn’t like.  I can understand her choices, but still, it bothered me.  I did appreciate the character growth we got.  And the mystery itself was very well done.  It kept me guessing all the way to the satisfying ending.  There was one aspect that was left opened, but it could propel a follow up book.  This book has some content that definitely keeps it from being a cozy; it’s honestly a little hard to place outside of just plain mystery.  If you enjoy an engaging mystery, you’ll be glad you picked up this book.


Southern Ghost by Carolyn Hart (Death on Demand #8) – 5

Max Darling has taken on a new client he’s been keeping secret from his wife, Annie, owner of the mystery bookstore Death on Demand.  However, that changes when the client, a beautiful young woman, disappears and Max is arrested for the crime.  Annie doesn’t believe it, and together, the two of them work to figure out what really happened.  The key appears to be tied to something that happened twenty years ago, the case that Max was hired to investigate.  Is there more to figure out than the official story?  If so, can Annie and Max figure out what happened then and find his client in time?

The plot really does focus on the mystery from the past, but I’m not complaining.  It was a strong mystery with lots of motives and twists to keep me engaged.  The suspects are all strong, and I appreciated that we got to know them a bit before we got their full backgrounds.  Annie’s temper wasn’t as strong as in other books, and it had more of a comedic effect here.  Speaking of comedy, the sub-plot with Max’s mom and her research project on ghosts of the south was wonderful.  The references to other mystery books are still here but are more subdued, making them a fun bonus.  If you want to see why this series is so beloved, this is a good one to pick up.


Murder at the Marina by Janet Finsilver (Kelly Jackson #5) – 4

Kelly is taking an afternoon to see the boat that her friends, Ivan and Rudy, own.  But the tour never happens when she finds a dagger covered in what looks like blood on the boat.  While neither of the brothers own it, they do recognize it from their past.  A few days later, the owner of a Russian merchandise store turns up dead on their boat as well.  What is going on?  Does it have to do with the Russian Heritage Festival taking place in town?

I love it when background characters get a chance to shine, which is what happens here.  I was intrigued from the beginning and couldn’t wait to see how it would all play out.  Unfortunately, I did feel the climax was abrupt, and therefore weaker than it could have been.  While the suspects are appropriately shady, the rest of the cast is charming, which is no surprise to fans of the series.  I really do love these characters.  As always, I enjoyed spending time in a fictional version of the area where I grew up.  If you are looking for a fun cozy series, be sure to check this one out.


Tough Luxe by Diane Vallere (Samantha Kidd #11) – 3

Samantha Kidd has landed a new gig as a fashion columnist for the local paper.  But she doesn’t expect that to lead to an invitation to visit someone in prison.  Pretzel heiress Suzy Kintz was a high school acquaintance of Samantha’s, but a few years after they graduated, Suzy was convicted of killing her husband, and has been in jail ever since.  Now, there is new evidence that might exonerate Suzy.  Can Samantha figure out what really happened all those years ago?

I was immediately intrigued by the premise, and I enjoyed watching Samantha try to piece things together.  However, when we hit the end, I was found I was left with too many questions – one I’d had since the beginning and a couple more than came up from the climax.  I also found a sub-plot involving Samantha and her husband to be cringe inducing.  At least that sub-plot led to some great character growth in Samantha.  On the plus side, it is always great to hang out with these characters, and I loved the humor of the book.  If you are already a fan, you’ll want to see what Samantha gets up to here.  If you are new to the series, you should pick up an earlier book first before you see what happens here.


Murder at Sea by Various Authors (Destination Murders Anthology #3) – 5

For this entry in the Destination Murders short story anthologies, the writers are sending their sleuths on cruises.  Of course, no vacation in this series is without a hiccup and dead body or two.  From Norway to Italy and Seattle, and from budget cruise lines to luxury yachts, the sleuths must deal with the unexpected when a killer decides that the sea is the perfect time to strike.

While there are a couple of stories that really stood out, every single one of these eight stories is enjoyable.  I can’t think of one I didn’t like.  Many of the authors included their series characters here, although you don’t have to know the characters to enjoy what happens.  In fact, this reminded me that I really do need to read some of these author’s novels.  These stories are long enough that, by the time you’ve read all eight, you’ve read the equivalent of a full-length novel, so there is plenty here to keep you entertained.  Each story features a fun twist or two, and the solutions always satisfied.  Whether you are looking for a great read for a summer vacation or want something to make you feel like you are on vacation, you’ll be glad you boarded this anthology.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Book Review: Murder at Sea by Various Authors (Destination Murders Anthology #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Eight great stories set at sea
Cons: Cruise not included (although, after reading these, maybe that’s a good thing)
The Bottom Line:
Mysteries at sea
Eight delightful cruising plots
You will sail away

Set Sail for Eight Fun – and Deadly – Cruises

Just in time for summer, the third entry in the Destination Murders short story anthology has been released.  This time, we are cruising with killers in the eight fun mini cozy mysteries in Murder at Sea.

Those who have read the previous anthologies in this series will recognize the names here as everyone here has participated in at least one of the previous two anthologies if not both of them.  (One just happens to use her pen name and feature a different series this time around.)  While most of the authors chose to highlight the characters from their series, a couple of them feature characters that they’ve written about in previous anthologies.  The result is more time with characters we love if you’ve already read these collections.  But don’t worry.  If you are new to the collections or the characters (I still haven’t read some of the series by these authors), anything you need to know is explained.  I never felt lost as I was reading.

So, what kind of stories do we get in the collection?  Celebrity chef turned food festival judge Jackie Norwood finds danger on a cruise to Norway where she is supposed to be judging a cooking competition for a food company.  A girl’s weekend in Key West lands Barbara Marr in danger on board a yacht.  A second attempt at a honeymoon lands a young couple in the middle of murder in Italy.  Even a cruise to nowhere ends up in murder for a group of vacationing friends.

Honestly, there wasn’t a bad short story in this collection.  While I enjoyed some of them more than others, all of them were fun, and I liked my time with all of them.  Yes, some get a little creative with the cruise theme, but I really didn’t mind.  The stories were great, and a little variety isn’t a bad thing.

As I said earlier, I’m not familiar with all of these authors outside of these collections, but this reminded me that I need to read some of their books.  I enjoyed getting to know the characters in all the stories, and I felt they were well developed for the amount of page time they had.

Likewise, the plots were all inventive.  It is amazing how many different ways there are to get rid of someone on a cruise ship.  After reading this, it might be time to stay home for a while.  Anyway, the twists were well done, and each story gave us a satisfactory resolution.

I know short stories can vary in length.  While some of these stories are longer than others, on average, they took me about 45 minutes to read.  Obviously, people’s reading time varies, but with eight stories here, you get a full-length book when you pick this up.

If you are looking for a perfect book to pick up for your summer travels or wanting a fun distraction while you stay home, you’ll be glad you booked passage on Murder at Sea.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

Included Stories:
“Cruise from Helheim” by Cathy Wiley
“Pie-Co” by Karen Cantwell
“Double Deep” by Gretchen Archer
“Last Chapter at Sea” by Meri Allen
“Seafood Rub” by Leslie Budewitz
“Two if by Sea” by Shawn Reilly Simmons
“A Sail of Two Continents” by Tina Kashian
“Bon Bon Voyage: Gone with the Tide” by Eleanor Cawoood Jones

Monday, May 29, 2023

Disney Pin Review: The Jungle Cruise - Mickey Mouse the Main Attraction #11

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great representation of a favorite attraction
Cons: Mickey’s still holds that same pose
The Bottom Line:
Mickey’s dressed to pun
As he honors Jungle Cruise
In this Jumbo pin

I’m Glad I Didn’t Skipper Over This Pin

The Jungle Cruise – the ride that is perfect for someone like me who loves a good pun.  (And there is no such thing as a bad pun.)  Even if I hadn’t been collecting the Mickey Mouse the Main Attraction pins, I would have been tempted to get the entry for The Jungle Cruise.

This is a very tan and brown pin, which makes sense.  Yes, the plants we cruise by are green, but the skippers wear khakis.  Mickey is dressed up in brown boots.  He’s wearing stripped overall, and they are a reddish brown, paying homage to the stripes on the top of the boats.  He’s wearing a tan shirt and has a pouch slung over one shoulder.  And he’s wearing a tan hat with a band on it.

Yes, this is another pin that immediately connects Mickey with the attraction, and I appreciate that.  A couple more touches might have been nice, but I’m not sure what else they could have worked in.  Once again, I will say that it would be nice if Mickey had a different pose than he does here, but that’s been a standard complaint throughout the entire series.

Fans of the attraction will love seeing Mickey dressed up to honor a favorite.  This is a great way to celebrate The Jungle Cruise even when you aren’t in the parks.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Memorial Day Weekend's Sunday/Monday Post

Welcome to the middle part of the weekend if you are here in the USA.  Time for a Sunday Post.  I will be linking up to:

Sunday Post
Sunday Salon
Stacking the Shelves
Mailbox Monday
It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

It was another fairly quiet week for me.  Work was pretty busy trying to get things ready for quarter end close, which starts when we get back on Tuesday.  It's going to be a long, busy couple of weeks.  It's not off to a great start as some of things I tried to get a jump on Friday didn't happen since our accounting software didn't want to run them.  I logged in Saturday morning, and it still wasn't working right.  Doesn't bode well for next week, does it?  Fortunately, everything else was working, at least Friday.

I'm still stopped up from my cold, but other than that, I feel fine.  I just need my nose to stop running.

Friday night, I went down to a pick up ultimate Frisbee game.  I was debating about going for a couple of reasons - traffic coming home (which didn't turn out to be much worse than normal) and my shoulder.  And sure enough, I felt my shoulder as I was running on the field and as I tried to catch the disc several times.  I was afraid I had made it worse.  And yet, when I got home, I noticed that it was actually feeling better.  Same things Saturday.  I'm hoping that I've turned a corner on it and it will be completely healed in a couple of days.  And I guess this means I don't have an excuse to not exercise now, so maybe I should get back to that.

Blog Spam Comment of the Week:

I've been meaning to add this section to my posts for a while - a chance to highlight and mock a spam comment that especially amused me for some reason.  No, these aren't found on my blog, thanks for my spam filter.  I will be leaving out any identifying details so they hopefully don't get any added publicity.  I'm just doing this for a laugh.

This won't be a regular feature, just something I do from time to time when I have something I want to laugh about.  Although I do have several saved up since I've been meaning to do this with for a while.

Today's spam comment:

Glad I found this article. I can use this on my virtual assistance journey. Keep writing helpful articles like this one. I'll definitely visit this blog

What makes this one so amusing?  It was on a potato chip review.  I'm not sure how that can be used on a virtual assistant journey.  I'm not even sure it was that helpful.  Fun?  Yes.  Amusing?  Probably.  So yes, I laughed when I read it.

This Past Week on the Blog:

This Coming Week on the Blog:

Sunday - Sunday/Monday Post
Monday - Disney Pin Review: The Jungle Cruise - Mickey Mouse the Main Attraction
Tuesday - Book Review: Murder at Sea by Various Authors
Wednesday - May Reading Summary
Thursday - Book Review: Passport to Spy by Nancy Cole Silverman
Friday - Friday Post featuring Hot Pot Murder
Friday - Movie Review: Million Dollar Mermaid
Saturday - Weekly TV Thoughts

Book Haul:

We've got us another three book week this week.

I mean, how can you argue with free?  That's how I got two of my books this week.  The first of those was a physical book I won from Lesa's Book Critiques.  If you don't read her blog regularly, she hosts giveaways most Fridays, and I won Murder Served Neat by Michelle Hillen Klump from her.  This is the second in the Cocktails and Catering Mysteries.  I have the first on my Kindle app, which obviously I need to get read now.

(If you aren't a regular at Lesa's, she also hosts a weekly "What We Are Reading" thread on Thursdays that is fun to contribute to.)

Meanwhile, a book I'd been eyeing went free for Kindle.  How can you resist that?  I certainly couldn't, so I got Bowled Over Americano by Carolyn Arnold.  It's the first in a series, and it sounds fun.  That's all I know about it at the moment.

Finally, Diane Vallere put Love Me or Grieve Me on sale.  This is the tenth in her Madison Night series, and it's on sale as she gets ready to release the eleventh here pretty soon.  I'm still behind but catching up (book eight in the series is on deck for July), but I must get a book when it's on sale.

What I'm Currently Reading:

I'm working on Hot Pot Murder by Jennifer J. Chow.  This is the second in her LA Night Market series.  I had hoped to be further along in it by now, but I am definitely enjoying it.  I just need to sit down and devote some time to helping her characters figure out what is going on.

Up next will be Murder on Madison Square by Victoria Thompson.  I'm so close to getting caught up in the series, and I'm looking forward to revisiting these characters.  It's also my only non-ARC that I will be physically reading for June.  Normally, I try to have a 50/50 mix, but June just had too many new books coming out.  (Well, I'm hoping to work in a middle grade fantasy book, but we will see if I have enough time for that to happen or not.)

Have a great rest of your weekend and a great week!

Saturday, May 27, 2023

May 27th's Weekly TV Thoughts

The last of my regular season finales were this week.  But I've got a couple of scripted shows running through the end of June.  After that, who knows when I'll have a scripted show to talk about here thanks to the writer's strike.

Race to Survivor: Alaska - I paid attention this time, and it looks like they leave them in camp for about a week between legs.  Wow, that’s a long time.  Or at least they did this time.  I knew this leg would be much more intense since the easy teams were all gone.  I honestly figured it would be the father/son or the brother/sister who were in last.  But the brother/sister are in first right now.  Father/son could still be eliminated, but I think it will be closer than it looked at one point.  It’s hard to tell since the teams have gotten separated.  Of course, there’s still a long ways to go.

Superman & Lois – I know I say this every week, but wow!  The relationships on this show are so strong.  I absolutely love how they are writing the characters.  John could use a swift kick upside the head, but I do understand where he is coming from.  In fact, I loved how both of the kids pointed out where their dads were out of line in ways they could understand.  Not happy about them sneaking around.  But the stuff between Lois and Clark and between Lana and Lois were outstanding.

Gotham Knights – Such great character stuff in this episode as they moved the story forward.  But those cliffhangers?  I mean, what’s happening with Turner?  And what did the video Harvey was watching mean?  I sure thought he was guilty.  Can’t wait until next week.

The Flash – Yes, there were moments I liked.  But overall, this left me feeling pretty blah.  Kind of last the last few seasons.  And seriously, that’s how we defeat the villain?  I’ll miss what the show was, but not what it was the last few seasons.

Survivor – I think, of the five left, Yam Yam was at the bottom of my list.  I actually thought that Carson had a good shot if he made it to the end.  I’m curious to see how he would have done.  But, after listening to the jury, I completely get why they voted for him so overwhelmingly.  And, I’ve got to see, it was nice to see an alliance stick with each other to the very end.  I can’t remember the last time we saw that on Survivor.  Plus, they were so the underdog so early on, too.  I honestly thought that Caroline would be out early (until Jeff talked her up on the podcast), but I was impressed with how well she really did.  And the fact that she wasn’t annoying to me like I thought she would be early on.

Friday, May 26, 2023

Book Review: Tough Luxe by Diane Vallere (Samantha Kidd #11)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Characters, humor, fun premise
Cons: The plot doesn’t hold together in the end
The Bottom Line:
Clearing an old friend
It leaves too many questions
Sam and co still great

Twists of the Pretzel, but a Bit Empty Overall

Even though I’m reading Diane Vallere books every other month, I’m alternating series, so it’s been a while since I sat down to read a Samantha Kidd book.  I was looking forward to catching up with her in Tough Luxe.  Unfortunately, the book didn’t satisfy like I had hoped.

Those familiar with the series will know that Samantha Kidd has had a spotty employment history since she returned to her home town of Ribbon, Pennsylvania.  She’s recently landed a job writing a fashion column for the local paper.  Since Samantha has spent her entire career as a fashion buyer, that’s a great fit.

But she’s not the kind of reporter to go after breaking news, so that’s why she almost ignores an invite to visit Suzy Kintz.  Samantha and Suzy were friendly acquaintances in high school.  Suzy was the daughter of one of the local pretzel makers, and as such had a trust fund.  However, just a few years after they graduated from high school, Suzy was convicted of killing her husband and sent to jail for life.

Now, almost twenty years later, there’s been some new evidence that might exonerate Suzy.  With Samantha’s reputation for solving crimes, Suzy asks her to look into what really happened all those years ago.  Will Samantha be able to clear Suzy?

Since I enjoy the series, I sat down with anticipation, and quickly got caught up in Samantha’s world.  The case had quite a few twists and turns, and I enjoyed watching Samantha try to figure out exactly what was going on.

However, when I reached the end, I was left with some pretty major questions.  One of those questions I had been pondering since the very beginning.  The others came about based on the ultimate solution.  It left me with several things that didn’t make sense to me.  There was also a timeline issue near the beginning that bugged me.

And then there is a sub-plot involving Samantha and her husband that had me cringing.  I knew it was going to go wrong as soon as Samantha came up with the idea.  At this one did allow for some great character development.

That’s definitely the thing that I still enjoyed was spending time with Samantha and the other regulars.  Samantha continues to grow, and I enjoy watching that, even if the mechanism for it made me cringe.  These are great characters, and fans of the series will enjoy spending time with them.

If you know the series, the idea of a book about a pretzel heiress is pretty much on brand.  There is plenty of humor, and Samantha is a junk food junkie.  Between the two, this makes perfect sense.

And this book still had plenty of humor.  I laughed several times and grinned plenty of others.

Fans of the series will still want to catch up with Samantha in Tough Luxe.  If you haven’t yet met Samantha, I recommend you start with an earlier book in the series.

Here are the rest of the Samantha Kidd Mysteries.

May 26th's Friday Post Featuring Passport to Spy

Welcome to another Friday Post, where I will be linking up to:

Book Beginnings
First Line Friday
Friday 56
Book Blogger Hop

This week, for the first three, I will be featuring Passport to Spy by Nancy Cole Silverman.

This is the second book in her new Kat Lawson Mystery series.  I finished it earlier this week, and I loved it.

The book jumps right to the action.  Take a look at this opening:

As a journalist, I know better than to insert myself into the center of a news story. Especially when reporting on a murder.

That gets your attention, right?  Meanwhile, at 56% into the ARC, we find this:

“Viktor threatened to murder my mother if I didn’t help him. And if I went to the police or said anything to Hans or Erika about him, I’d disappear.”

I realize I'm not giving too much context for these quotes or anything about the book.  But I don't think the quotes need them.  They are great teasers all on their own.

As I said earlier, I loved this book.  It's official release day is June 6th, but my review will be up June 1st.  So, I hope you'll come back next Thursday to see what I thought about it.

Meanwhile, let's take a look at this week's Book Blogger Hop:

Are you reading more e-books lately?

I do feel like I'm edging that way lately.  I only wound up with two physical books in May, and I'll only have three in June.  I like to try to mix it up and be about half and half each month.  Hopefully, I can get back to that in July.

That's it for me this week.  Have a great weekend, especially those of us in the USA who get a long weekend.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Podcast Review: Guns, Knives, and Lipstick

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Interesting talk about writing and author interviews
Cons: Nothing major from me
The Bottom Line:
An author podcast
That readers will enjoy, too
So listen today

Discussing Crime Writing

I’ve slowly started listening to more podcasts.  Not too many since I can’t keep up with most of the ones I listen to since I’m working from home and don’t have that drive to listen to them.  Still, there are several I am really enjoying, and one of those is Guns, Knives, and Lipstick.

This podcast is released once a month, and it features four women who write crime fiction, Liz Milliron, Mally Becker, Kerry Peresta, and C. L. Tolbert.

The podcast is nearing the end of its second year.  (I know, I know, I’ve been putting off this review for a while.  Although, in my defense, I didn’t start listening to it when it first premiered.)  In season 1, the four authors tackled a different subject each month from characters to plot to building suspense to sustaining a series.  Typically, it was the four of them chatting about the topic, although they did bring in a guest to help them with the topic a couple of times.

This last year, they switched things up, and each month the four of them interview an author about their books, their writing process, and anything else that comes up.  These conversations can be free flowing at times, but they are always fun and fascinating.

I don’t know if there are any plans to switch up the format again for the third season, but either way, I’ve enjoying listening to the episodes.  Even though I’m a reader, not an author, I still found myself thinking about what they shared in season 1 and analyzing the books I read a little differently as a result.  Season two has found me adding more books to my to be read mountain range.  I haven’t gotten to any of them yet, but I really want to.

They only release one episode a month, so this won’t stack up on you too quickly, and if you start listening to the archives, you’ll catch up before you know it.

If you are looking for a new podcast on writing, I recommend you give Guns, Knives, and Lipstick a try.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Book Review: Murder at the Marina by Janet Finsilver (Kelly Jackson #5)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Charming characters, interesting premise
Cons: Abrupt ending could have been stronger
The Bottom Line:
Dagger on a boat
Opens intriguing story
Characters we love

Heritage Festival Brings Murder

One thing I love about a series is the chance for supporting players to step to the forefront.  In the Kelly Jackson series, we’ve met brothers Ivan and Rudy before, but they really got a chance to shine in Murder at the Marina, the fifth book in the series.

If you are new to the series, Kelly Jackson runs the Redwood Cove Bed and Breakfast in Northern California.  Since arriving in the fictional town of Redwood Cove, she has stumbled into several mysteries that she’s solved along with a local group of seniors who have dubbed themselves the Silver Sentinels.  Ivan and Rudy are part of this group, so when they find themselves in trouble, everyone is ready to jump in to help.

It all begins when a dagger is found on Ivan and Rudy’s boat covered in what looks like blood.  No one seems to know how it got there, but the brothers recognize it right away as part of a set that had been in the family before they came to America, fleeing the aftermath of the Russian Revolution.

Meanwhile, the annual Russian Heritage Festival is coming soon, and the committee is having more than its usual share of squabbles.  At the center of all the commotion is the owner of the new Russian merchandise store in town.  When he turns up dead on Ivan and Rudy’s boat, things really heat up.  Can Kelly and the rest of the Silver Sentinels figure out what is going on.

If you read my reviews regularly, you know I’m a timeline guy.  I do have to question just how old Ivan and Rudy are supposed to be given the history we get here.  But in this case, it’s more a lingering question than anything I truly cared about.

I was hooked on the story within a few pages.  The premise was extremely intriguing.  The plot kept me engaged the entire time, with several good twists that I enjoyed.  Unfortunately, the climax was rather abrupt.  It does answer all our questions, but it was weaker than it could have been.

There is quite a large cast of characters here, and I loved getting to spend time with all of them again.  Yes, the suspects are appropriately shady, but the rest of the cast are completely wonderful.  That includes the police, who do question Rudy and Ivan, as they should, but suspect that something else is going on.  I always appreciate it when the police aren’t quick to assume someone they know has suddenly become a criminal.

While there are no recipes at the end of the book, I still consider these books culinary cozies because of all the delicious food that is discussed over the course of the book.  Not to mention the scenes involving Kelly taking a baking lesson from her potential love interest.

I grew up not too far from where this series is set, and I enjoyed seeing the fictional counterparts to places I know pop up here.  And yes, there is Russian heritage in the area since it was originally setting by Russians.  I thought that tie in to the region was great.

If you are looking for a charming cozy series, you will definitely be glad you picked up the Kelly Jackson Mysteries.  Murder at the Marina is another entry fans will enjoy.

Check out the rest of the Kelly Jackson Mysteries.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Movie Review: Carrot Cake Murder - A Hannah Swensen Mystery

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Great characters, engaging mystery
Cons: Ending does not work for me for a couple of reasons
The Bottom Line:
Hannah on cold case
Enjoyed seeing characters
Ending didn’t work

“She’s Running Around Like Some Podcaster Interviewing People.”

I wasn’t super thrilled when I saw the last movie starring Hannah Swensen and company, mainly because some of the changes they made seemed rather jarring.  Still, I was excited to see them bringing everyone back for Carrot Cake Murder.  I mean, this franchise is what started me watching Hallmark mystery movies, and I’ve read the books since the first one came out.  As much as I enjoyed this movie, some things about the ending left me disappointed.

This movie finds Hannah (Alison Sweeney) working on a cold case.  An old building in town is the subject of a controversy as some people want to save it while others want to tear it down and build something new.  But the controversy stops when Hannah and her friend, Norman (Gabriel Hogan) find an old skeleton at the bottom of an elevator shaft one night.  The body is quickly identified as that of a man who was arrest for theft before he vanished one night.  And, he was supposed to have been involved in a jewelry robbery right before his disappearance.  Will Hannah figure out what happened all those year ago?

My issue with the last movie included some abrupt changes, or what felt like abrupt changes.  Probably the biggest was the introduction of Hannah’s youngest sister, Michelle (Tess Atkins).  I’m happy to say that Michelle was toned down some for this movie.  Yes, her personality was still there, but it wasn’t as over the top in your face.  The rest of the movie seemed to be back to normal as well.

Fans of the books are probably scratching their head at my teaser.  Granted, I haven’t read Carrot Cake Murder since it came out 15 years ago or so.  But that murder mystery centered around someone coming to town for a family reunion and winding up dead.  Maybe if I reread the book I’d find some similarities, but they are definitely not obvious.  I feel like this is the biggest departure they’ve done so far, although there have been others.

Having said that, I really was enjoying the movie.  The story is compelling, with several suspects and questions that kept me engaged.  The characters are charming.  I am impressed with how many of the series regulars from the books they have incorporated into the movies, and I love seeing them brought to life.  Yes, the details are very different from the books, but I don’t care.  This alternative universe Hannah Swensen is fun.

And the actors are obviously having fun bringing their characters to life.  I laughed at some of their lines and interactions as the movie was rolling along.  And it was great to meet Lonnie, as played by Daylin Willis.

Yes, I was definitely having a great time until we got to the climax.  That’s when things went sideways for me.  First up, there is the solution to the mystery itself.  I’m trying to avoid spoilers here, but essentially, the timeline doesn’t make sense.  I’d actually thought about the scenario that was ultimately right earlier in the movie and dismissed it because of timeline issues.

Then, Hannah gets upset by what another character does.  I get why she is hurt.  I also get why the other character did what they did.  As this other character points out at one point, they are both wrong and both right.  However, the reaction that Hannah has as a result seemed too far to me and made her seem immature.  But maybe that’s just me.  It just did not feel earned.  We needed another couple scenes to build up to it, then I would have bought it completely.

The ending certainly does make a good cliffhanger, and I am glad that the news dropped they are about to start filming the next movie.  At least we won’t have the unresolved cliffhanger we got with Mystery 101 here.

I’m disappointed the ending didn’t work for me because I was enjoying Carrot Cake Murder up until then.  If you are a fan of the franchise, you’ll still want to watch the movie and see for yourself how you feel about the ending.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Book Review: Southern Ghost by Carolyn Hart (Death on Demand #8)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and intriguing mystery
Cons: I didn’t find a ghost of a con
The Bottom Line:
A disappearance
Revives an old mystery
A very fun book

Ghosts of the Past Haunt the Present

A secret from the past setting off a modern day mystery is a familiar trope of the mystery genre.  Heck, I’ve read several books with that catalyst this month alone.  But somehow Southern Ghost stood out to me from the rest, and in a good way.

This is the eighth book in Carolyn Hart’s Death on Demand series.  The series is set in South Carolina where Annie Lawrence Darling owns a mystery bookstore named Death on Demand.  This book happens to take Annie and Max off their island home to the town of Chastain, which is nearby but on the mainland.

Max Darling owns a private inquiry agency, and it’s his latest client that gets them involved in the case.  He’s been secretive about it, which Annie doesn’t mind.  That is until the hostile police chief from Chastain shows up demanding to know what Annie knows about Max’s beautiful client.  And he happens to drop that Max has been arrested in the disappearance of his client.

Not one to waste time, Annie gets Max out of jail.  But that leaves them with a missing client.  She had asked Max to investigate what happened two decades ago on a day when there were two tragic deaths in the Tarrant family.  Max didn’t find anything that varied from the official statements released at the time of the crime.  Working together, can Max and Annie uncover what really happened?  Will they find his client in time?

Honestly, most of the book focuses on what happened in the past since, it is assumed, that whoever knows the truth also knows what happened to the missing woman.  There are references to how long the woman has been missing, but at times she seems forgotten.

That isn’t to say this isn’t a wonderful mystery.  I was caught up in the story right away, and when we switched to the focus on the past, I was just as hooked.  There are plenty of still living suspects with motive, and I didn’t have a grasp on who was behind everything until the end.  The ending was a bit theatrical, but it worked.  It was fun, and I’m not complaining in the slightest.

It’s now been a couple of books since the last time we had data dumps on the suspects early in the book.  I hope that stays true going forward.  Yes, we do get dossiers on them at one point, but by then, we’ve gotten to know them a bit, so this information means something to us and helps further the story and flesh out the characters.

Meanwhile, Max and Annie shine.  They are the only of the series regulars who get much page time, although a couple of supporting characters from an earlier book in the series pop up again.  Annie seemed to have her temper more under control here, which I always appreciate.  Some of that can be fun and funny, but too much gets tiring.

Speaking of funny, Max’s mom has a running storyline that finds her investigating southern ghosts for a book she’s decided to write.  If you know the character, yes, it is as fun as it sounds.  Some of the stories are tragic, but the way she presents them are funny, as is Annie’s reaction to hearing them.  Overall, they provide a nice relief to what can be a sad at times main mystery.

This is an older series, and the book came out in the early 90’s.  That means some of the references to “modern” things are hilariously dated, but they are fun none-the-less.

We also get plenty of references to other authors and their books.  Carolyn Hart even manages to work in a reference to one of her other works.  I feel like the massive lists of earlier entries in the series have mostly died down, and I found the references to be fun here.

Even the swearing has died back.  Yes, we still get a few more swear words than you’d expect in a cozy of the era, but it’s much less than it was.

Once again, Kate Reading did a fabulous job with the audio version of this book.  She adds some warmth and humor to an already great story.

Southern Ghost is a great entry in a much loved series.  Fans who haven’t read it yet will enjoy it.  If you haven’t started the series yet, this is a great example of why it has had so many fans for so many years.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Death on Demand Mysteries.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Mary 21st's Sunday/Monday Post

Welcome to another Sunday/Monday post.  Once again, I will be linking up to:

Sunday Post
Sunday Salon
Stacking the Shelves
Mailbox Monday
It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

Not too much to report this week.  My shoulder is getting better.  It's still there, and still sore, but not nearly as bad as it was a week ago.  I'm hoping it will be well enough so I can go out paddle boarding next weekend.

The other fun bit of news is I came down with a cold on Thursday.  That's the other reason I didn't go out paddle boarding today.  It's a mild cold, but it's still frustrating.

So, I've had a rather quiet week and weekend in.  But hopefully all this will be behind me for the long weekend we have next weekend here in the USA.

This Past Week on the Blog:

This Coming Week on the Blog:

Sunday - Sunday/Monday Post
Monday - Book Review: Southern Ghost by Carolyn Hart
Tuesday - Movie Review: Carrot Cake Murder
Wednesday - Book Review: Murder at the Marina by Janet Finsilver
Thursday - Podcast Review: Guns, Knives, and Lipstick
Friday - Book Review: Tough Luxe by Diane Vallere
Saturday - Weekly TV Thoughts

Book Haul:

It's  another three book week around here.

Up first is my preorder of Helpless, the newest Zoe Chambers Mystery from Annette Dashofy.  This is book twelve in her Zoe Chambers series.  I've been hearing great things about it, and I'm really looking forward to it.  However, I'm back at book eight, so I have a little bit of time to go yet before I get to it.

Next up was The Girl with the Golden Eyes.  Author Samantha Hastings was giving this away free to anyone who preordered A Novel Disguise, which she wrote as Samantha Larsen.  She extended that to those who were part of her blog tour, so I snagged it.

Finally, I got an ARC of Murder at Sea.  This is a short story collection by various authors, the third in the Destination Murders series.  Some of these authors I had read before the collections started.  Some of them, I look forward to reading now.  The authors change slightly from anthology to anthology.  The book comes out Tuesday, but I didn't get it in time to review it this week.  So I'll be reviewing it after Memorial Day.  Naturally, the stories in this collection feature 

What I'm Currently Reading:

I've started on my June ARCs!  Up first is Passport to Spy by Nancy Cole Silverman.  I've only gotten a couple of chapters in, and I haven't read much today even though I've been doing nothing around the condo.  This is the second in a series set in the late 1990's in Europe involving stolen paintings.  I'm sure I will enjoy it when I finally sit down and start digging into it.  Probably tomorrow, but maybe later today.

And I'm still working on my audio book - Racing the Light by Robert Crais.  I'm making progress in it - I'm on disc 5 of 7.  I tried to listen to it on the CD player in my condo, but that player seems to have issues with the discs and skips stuff.  It's frustrating.  My car player doesn't have that issue, so I will be running a few more errands this next week.  I'm sure I'll get it listened to before it is due back to the library on the 30th.

Have a wonderful week!

Saturday, May 20, 2023

May 20th's Weekly TV Thoughts

One more season/series finale this week.  Of course, with a couple of episodes taking the week off and the shows that have already ended, it makes things appear very empty.

Race to Survivor: Alaska – Not real surprises here.  I mean, did anyone think that team that left would make it to the end in time to eliminate another team?  My bet is on the father/son team going next.  They are consistently in fourth, and the father doesn’t seem willing to listen to his teammate.

The Weakest Link – That first round was so stressful.  They had such a nice chain going, but I knew someone would break it.  Yep.  They seemed to actually be trying to build chains, which was nice from the teams that bank every time they get an answer right.  But they wound up doing worse for gambling like that.

The Flash – Truly, this storyline is so weird.  I get why they are doing it, but it just gets more bizarre.  And I wonder when they had to rewrite the scenes that Grant (Barry) had to miss because he caught Covid.  I feel like he should have been around more in this episode than he was, but maybe it’s next week’s series finale?

Survivor – They do a great job every time of making us think someone might be going home only to have them safe.  And if you had told me at the beginning of the season I’d be upset to see Carolyn go home, I would have laughed at you.  But here we are.  I really do like her.  It will be interesting to see if she pulls off the win or not next week.

True Lies – The final two episodes were enjoyable.  Not nearly enough to redeem the series, but I wish the rest of the series had been like that.  I’m a little surprised they told the kids what was really going on, but I liked how they provided a needed step forward.  And we got a pretty good ending.  Yes, not everything wrapped up.  I’ll call it more of a teaser on where the show would have gone.  It wasn’t bad enough to make me truly wish the show were coming back.  Then again, I probably would have skipped a second season anyway.

Friday, May 19, 2023

May 19th's Friday Post Featuring Murder at the Marina

Hi everyone!  Welcome to Friday and another Friday post, where I will be linking up to:

Book Beginnings
First Line Friday
Friday 56
Book Blogger Hop

For the first three, my teasers will be coming from Murder at the Marina by Janet Finsilver.

This is the fifth in the Kelly Jackson series.

Horse lovers will be jealous of how the book opens:

My heart raced as the Appaloosa galloped down the beach, his hooves flinging sand high into the air.

Heck, I have only ridden on horseback a few times, and I was jealous of the opening scene.

Moving ahead to 56% of the ebook, we find this fun exchange.  To set the scene, Kelly has gone to the marina to get some information, and well, there's a reason this book is called Murder at the Marina.  Anyway, this is what happens when she shows up.

I spotted Joe in his usual attire and place—bib overalls and rocking chair. “Hey, Joe.”
“Hey back to you.” He leaned over and peered around me toward the parking lot.
I looked over my shoulder but didn’t see anything in the lot. “Are you looking for something or expecting someone?”
“Just checkin’ to see if the cop cars arrived yet. They have every time you’ve showed up.” He chuckled, a dry, cackling sound.

I've finished the book, and I enjoyed it.  I'm planning to review the book Wednesday of next week, so I hope you'll come back to see my full review.

Meanwhile, time to close things out with the Book Blogger Hop.  This week's question is:

Have you ever attempted to repair a damaged book?

I have a couple of times over the years, and it was mostly successful.  But, most recently, there was the ARC I got wet that I borrowed a friend's hairdryer and dried the book out.  Yes, the pages are all stiff now, but I was able to read it.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Book Review: Her Dying Day by Mindy Carlson

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery
Cons: One subplot in June’s life
The Bottom Line:
A missing author
Will June solve past mystery?
Strong; kept me engaged

What Really Happened to Greer Larkin?

This last December, a friend surprised me with a book, Her Dying Day by Mindy Carlson.  This mystery hadn’t even crossed my radar, but she happens to know the authors, and, since she knows I love mysteries, she sent it my way.  While I struggled with parts, overall, I enjoyed it.

June Masterson is an aspiring filmmaker about to get a graduate degree in documentary making.  The trouble is, she has to settle on her final project, and she keeps changing her focus.  Nothing is exciting her until she lands on the idea of doing a documentary on the disappearance of Greer Larkin.

Greer was a shining star in the mystery world, bursting onto the scene as a teenager.  But then, after releasing only a handful of books, she vanished after a very public fight with her fiancĂ©.  That was twenty years ago, and no one has heard from her since.

June has been a fan of the author for years, and she has followed over scrap of news over the author’s fate.  As she interviews the principles in Greer’s life, conflicting theories and reports surface.  The stakes are raised when someone starts threatening Greer.  Can she figure out what happened to Greer?  Or will she have to settle for an unsatisfactory ending to her documentary?  Will she even finish it on time?

I’ve got to say, I struggled with parts of this book while being completely caught up in other aspects of it.  I struggled the most with June herself.  She is making some choices that made me want to sit her down and help her see sense.  I found many scenes around this to be difficult to read.  On the other hand, it gave us a great opportunity for some growth in June.

The main mystery of what really happened to Greer is solid.  I changed my mind multiple times over what I thought had happened all those years ago.  With so many of the main people in her life still alive, it gave us modern stakes even if the case was so old.  I liked that.

This is a weird book to place in a sub-genre of mystery.  We have an amateur sleuth, which makes it lean toward cozy.  But some of the content is too strong to really even be traditional.  Despite how it might sound, this really isn’t a thriller either.  However you want to sub-classify it, this is a good mystery.

That’s because, as we reached the climax, things came together wonderfully.  I did not see much of what June unearthed coming, but I was very pleased with how the author pulled it off.  One aspect of the book was left up in the air, and I would love to know what happened with that.  Maybe in a sequel?  I could definitely see it being used as fodder for a new book.

Ultimately, I turned the last page of Her Dying Day glad my friend sent it on to me.   If you enjoy a mystery that will keep you engaged, you’ll be glad you picked this one up.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Movie Review: Inheritance Lost - The Jane Mysteries

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great new characters in an engaging mystery
Cons: Some of Jane’s actions are very questionable
The Bottom Line:
Fifteen-year-old case
Jane honors late uncle’s wish
Great start to franchise

“I’m Just Trying to Help.”

Being a fan of Full House and Fuller House (although I still need to watch the final season of that show), I was thrilled to see Jodie Sweetin start her own mystery franchise on the Hallmark Channel.  Inheritance Lost, the first Jane Mystery, proved to be a lot of fun.

Jane da Silva (Jodie Sweetin) is living in Paris and working as a singer until she gets word that her uncle has passed away.  She returns to Baltimore to be with her aunt Sadie (Paris Jefferson), and discovers that her uncle has named her as the head of his retirement project – a foundation that looks into old cases for those who need help and answers.

While Jane is still trying to figure out what to do about this, she meets a young client.  Lia (Danielle Smith) is a teen who wants to find out what happened to her mother who died fifteen years ago.  Officially, it was ruled a suicide, but Lia isn’t satisfied with that.  Then there’s the mystery of the inheritance that Lia’s mother had gotten not too long before she died.  With the help of homicide detective John Cameron (Stephen Huszar), can Jane figure out what happened?

This was a solid mystery to start the franchise.  I was very interested in what Jane was uncovering.  She is very green as an investigator, and made some very rookie mistakes.  Some might fault her for this, but I’m willing to let it slide here since she seemed to recognize the mistakes after she’d made them.  Hopefully, this is the kind of thing she will learn from so we won’t see as much of it going forward.  Anyway, Jane does put the pieces together at the end and reach a satisfying solution.

One aspect that was very fun is that Aunt Sadie also used to be a performer.  As a result, she has a huge collection of costumes that Jane uses at various times in the investigation.  I loved seeing what she’d pop up in next.

We also got a few snippets of Jodie Sweetin singing.  She’s not known for her singing, but she definitely should be.  Hope we see more of that in the future as well.

For a Hallmark movie, this film was refreshingly light on cheese.  Jodie leads things with a strong presence, and the writing is good, giving the actors quite a bit to work with.  I recognized Stephen Huszar from another Hallmark mystery franchise, one I struggled to watch.  He was great here, proving that the writing can often have a lot to do with how the actors come across.

I definitely hope that this is the start of a long running mystery franchise for Hallmark.  Inheritance Lost was a good introduction to characters I already love and can’t wait to see again.